We are absolutely delighted to share that our Founder, Ginny Williams-Ellis, has been awarded an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List 2022, for Services to Education, as founder of the adult literacy charity, Read Easy UK.
Ginny was working as a prison literacy tutor when she realised how many people outside the prison system also have serious struggles with reading. She also discovered that – as in prison – most adults in this situation are far too embarrassed to join an adult education class. As a result, in 2010, she founded Read Easy in her local community in Dorset to provide free, confidential, one-to-one reading coaching for any adult who struggles with reading. Reading sessions are twice-weekly, phonics-based and provided by trained volunteers.
Ginny says, ‘Not being able to read has a hugely limiting impact on someone’s life. There are so many things that you can’t do – from filling in forms at the doctor’s or getting a job, to simply doing your food shopping. Another really big thing for parents is not being able to read bedtime stories with their children or help them with their own reading, and this then has an impact on their children’s literacy. So, it was really exciting that after that first Read Easy group started, we soon saw really significant transformations taking place in people’s lives in different ways as they learnt to read.’
In 2011, a second volunteer group was set up in Dorset and she founded Read Easy UK as an umbrella charity that could further replicate the model – the same year as a government survey put the number of adults unable to read at 2.4 million in England alone (Skills for Life, Dept. BIS 2011). It gradually became clear that there was no other organisation attempting to provide free, one-to-one reading coaching on a national basis.
Since then, Read Easy has grown considerably and we are set to have 80 volunteer-led groups across England by September 2022. Through our network of highly committed volunteers, we have already helped well over 1,500 people learn to read. If one thinks in terms of how a family or a partner benefits when an adult learns to read, the life-change is truly transformational.
‘The most dramatic change we see over and over again when people learn to read is an enormous increase in their confidence and self-esteem. It opens up so many opportunities for them, in work, in family life and relationships, and just in being able to be independent and do the things that most of us take for granted. I’ll never forget when one new reader was interviewed by BBC South West and said, “I feel like a member of society for the first time in my life.” Surely, we should want everyone to be able to feel like this. There are many reasons why some people didn’t learn to read at school, but the most important thing to know is that it’s never too late!’
The truth of this was borne out recently by a BBC One documentary, which followed the popular TV personality, Jay Blades MBE, as he learned to read at the age of 51 with a Read Easy volunteer coach. The ‘Jay Blades effect’, as we call it, has had a huge impact, leading to hundreds more people having the confidence to come forward for help, as well as many more people wanting to volunteer with us.
Ginny, who stepped down as Read Easy CEO earlier this year, says, ‘It’s so exciting that Read Easy is continuing to grow. If the necessary funding can be raised, there’s now the potential to reach adults all over the UK, and my successor, Carla Priddon, is keen to explore how Read Easy can use technology and digital approaches more to help achieve this. In the future, she also particularly wants to reach more young adults, so that Read Easy can help save them from decades of unnecessary struggle.’
“The most rewarding thing for me has been to see so many people emerge from the shadows of their reading difficulties to lead much happier and more fulfilling lives. Their courage and determination, and the enormous dedication of so many volunteers who make all of this possible, is truly inspiring."Read Easy Founder, Ginny Williams-Ellis